Islamabad, 9 January 2017: Media Matters for Democracy, Digital Rights Foundation and Pakistan Press Foundation have filed a public petition with the Senate of Pakistan, urging to take threats to women journalists and perils in the digital world into consideration while drafting the ‘Journalist Safety Bill’.
The Senate Standing Committee on Information Broadcasting and National Heritage formed a three-member subcommittee in November 2017, under the convenership of Senator Farhatullah Khan Babar to draft the aforementioned legislation, after it rejected a draft ‘Journalist Safety and Welfare Bill’ proposed by the federal government.
The legislation under discussion aims to enact special mechanisms to proactively protect journalists in Pakistan.
On 4th January, the subcommittee called a meeting to consult with the stakeholders, however, perspectives from a number of advocacy groups, especially those working on issues specific to the safety of women journalists and the digital threats were missed out.
MMfD, DRF and PPF through this petition calls upon the Senate and the Senators to take a truly multi-stakeholder approach when consulting for this extremely important legislation.
PETITION TO SENATE OF PAKISTAN
Senator Mian Raza Rabbani
Convener Sub Committee of Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting
Senator Farhatullah Babar
Subject: Request for opening up the consultation process on Journalist Welfare and Safety Bill 2017
With utmost respect to the honourable senators, we want to raise some concerns about the Journalist Welfare and Safety Bill 2017 and the related process of consultation and drafting that has been taken up by the sub committee of Senate’s Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting
The federal government has engaged in consultations over a proposed journalist safety legislation over the last few years, however, these consultations have not been truly public. The act of journalism is a public interest activity and as we all believe, an attack on media’s freedom is an attack on citizens’ right to know, then citizen bodies should truly be made a stakeholder in this legislation
Previously, the latest draft of the journalist safety bill had not been publicly circulated. For a truly inclusive consultative process, the draft bill should have been made available for public scrutiny and feedback
It is also of concern that during the recent sub committee meeting held on 4th January 2017, only a few media development organisations were invited. The petitioner’s own organisation [Media Matters for Democracy] and reputable civil society groups such as Pakistan Press Foundation, Digital Rights Foundation, that has been engaged in media rights advocacy, digital safety and online harassment of women journalists and related safety issues were not included were not included in the conversation
It is also extremely important to ensure the inclusion of other key stakeholders, in particular the National Commission on Human Rights, which already has a cross cutting mandate, is led by a retired Justice and has so far been completely excluded from the conversation. Justice Chohan, the Chairperson of NCHR has iterated on public forums the mandate of NCHR in dealing with crimes against journalists and has expressed concern over the lack of NCHR engagement.
Due to the exclusion of a number of civil society actors, the discussions in the sub committee will miss out on a number of varying perspectives and concerns, including [but not limited to];
The issue of the lack of focus on investigation processes, prosecution and shortcomings, in the proposed draft,
The specific issues of safety and attacks that surround women journalists,
The whole plethora of a new generation of attacks against journalists using cyber-tools and digital platforms,
The issues and threats faced by digital journalists, who are not associated with mainstream and formal media sector and aren’t recognised by mainstream journalist unions and associations, and;
The questions around the autonomy and independence of any proposed commissions
6. It is pertinent to stress that journalist safety issues in Pakistan have historically been carried out without the inclusion of the concerns of women journalists, simply because these conversations are completely driven by men and dependent on the statistics related to journalist killings. However, the killings are not the only threat to journalists and these statistics do not convey the dangers that are unique to women journalists in Pakistan.
7. And finally, we, as stakeholders in the legislation process, would like to request the Senate and the Honourable Senators to not rush through the legislative processes without proper consultations and considerations, only to find out that important components have been missed in haste.
Thus, we call upon the Senate to make the draft available on their website for a truly public scrutiny and to ensure that going forward a wider range of stakeholders are included in the sub committee’s consultations. We also urge the Senate to take a wider view of the issue, so as to ensure that any legislation on the theme does not exclude the concerns of women journalists and journalists who are primarily using the internet for dissemination of news content.
Asad Baig on behalf of Media Matters for Democracy
Nighat Dad on behalf of Digital Rights Foundation
Owais Aslam Ali on behalf of Pakistan Press Foundation